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Middle EastNews

‘It’s enough to feel like you’re going insane’: Gaza, Gaslighting & The Effects of Censorship.

Dive into the untold narratives surrounding the Palestinian genocide. From psychological trauma to institutional censorship, this article sheds light on the complexities often obscured by mainstream discourse.

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Dive into the untold narratives surrounding the Palestinian genocide. From psychological trauma to institutional censorship, this article sheds light on the complexities often obscured by mainstream discourse.

Aaron Bushnell. The 25-year-old US Air Force Officer who self-immolated in an act of political resistance outside the Israeli Embassy in the US has swept the news this week.  

His final words: Free Palestine.  

There is much to be said regarding the effects of the ongoing genocide of Palestinians in Gaza and its impact on the mental health of those who are witnessing it, but whose trauma and angst is incessantly depoliticised to obfuscate Israel and its allies of justice and accountability.  

This impact is especially pronounced in an era of social media and smartphones where the horrors of Israeli war crimes are graphically captured to be broadcasted in real time.  

It is the perpetual and unrelenting denial of the horror we are witnessing which produces the angst and frustration that pushed Aaron to his final act. 

The media and commentators who refuse to acknowledge and condemn Israel have attempted to depoliticise Aaron’s act of protest as ‘deranged’ and ‘extremist’, deliberately erasing the context which drove him to it. In his last post, he put: 

“I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest, but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonisers, it is not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class have decided will be normal.” 

Aaron was not crazy, and no, we’re not mad. As Jiddu Krishnamurti once put, it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. 

Aaron’s act was a political response to the rage and powerlessness we all feel. 

My name is Lila Tamea and I am a PhD researcher exploring institutional islamophobia in higher education.  

Earlier in November, I was asked to deliver a seminar on the Muslim student experience on campus. A month after October 7, I felt it would have been negligent not to speak of effects of the trauma we were collectively experiencing as a community watching a genocide unfold.  

In the weeks prior, we witnessed the collective outpour of grief and solidarity with the victims of October 7 from our institutions and politicians – and understandably so.  

Yet barely one month later, 10,000 Palestinians in Gaza had been killed at the hands of Israel – 70% of them women and children. There was little or no recognition, nor display of solidarity from those same institutions to those victims – likely in an attempt to erase any accountability for their own complicity*.  

We were witnessing the most unfathomable, apocalyptic scenes, yet our governments and institutions were committed to arming and defending the genocidal state. 

Many of us were afraid of speaking of the injustice we witnessed, some of us were silenced, others were sacked. We were simply expected to carry on as usual, and it was eating us up from the inside.  

Whilst I prepared for the seminar, I asked my followers on Instagram – most of whom students and fellow higher education colleagues – how they were feeling and how this was impacting them.  

From this, I developed a graphic for the seminar to try and speak to the multi-layered forms of trauma and oppression we were all feeling. It ultimately describes the mass scale gaslighting* of pro-Palestine advocates in a society where pro-Israel political rhetoric was the status quo.  

 

Gaslighting: a form of psychological manipulation that hinges on creating self-doubt, making one seem or feel unstable, irrational and not credible; making one question their perception of reality. (Paige Sweet, PhD – via Forbes).  

Second Hand Trauma from Constant Exposure to Distressing Images 

The images being live-streamed in real-time by the Palestinians are deeply traumatic for anyone to witness. We have seen babies with their limbs blown off, dismembered limbs scattered across the rubble, lifeless children hanging from collapsed buildings men carrying the flesh of their families in plastic carrier bags. We have watched women and children undergoing amputations with no anaesthesia, screaming in agony; bodies flattened and crushed by tanks with their organs externalised on the street. A conveyer belt of these images etched and scarred inside our heads.   

All of these distressing images and videos can and have taken a huge toll on our mental and emotional wellbeing.   

Gaslighting & Political Endorsement for Genocide  

But, what we see is that it is not just the second-hand trauma of witnessing these harrowing scenes on our phones, day and night, at our desks, during our lunch time and on the commute home. It is the political endorsement from our ‘representatives’, institutions and public figures who continue to unapologetically and unconditionally support the acts committed against the Palestinians.  

We have seen media and politicians parrot unverified, racist and orientalist tropes of rapes and beheaded babies to manufacture public consent for the bombing campaigns which ensued.   

In a more recent announcement, Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak suggests that those taking the streets in the millions are ‘extremists’ and ‘islamists’, whilst those arming, defending and participating in what is being described as a genocide are not.  

For those who know the truth; who have been aware of the oppression which the Palestinians have endured at the hands of this so-called state for over 75 years, it has been psychologically exhausting to watch those in the public sphere insist that what we are seeing started on October 7. 

Acquaintance Betrayal 

Whilst abhorrent, though, we know the language of these senior political representatives is actually not at all representative. Fuelled by their own individual interests, we know they will always obscure the truth. 

Instead, in the days following October 7 what was most harrowing for many of us was the unexpected support from individuals closer to our circles. Where ‘equality, diversity and inclusion’ has become a growing priority for our corporate and educational institutions, we noticed an immediate stark and racist double standard in their responses to the Russian occupation of Ukraine versus the Israeli occupation of Palestine.  

Universities and regulators who usually would have condemned attacks and expressed solidarity with academic and healthcare facilities in Ukraine were mute about the same Gaza; whilst individuals who have built their careers as ‘EDI professionals’ and ‘anti-racist allies’ refuse to publicly call out the rampant islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism in their sectors. 

Atmosphere of Censorship  

According to a recent survey by We For P, a new Pro-Palestine professional community support network, 82% of individuals in support of Palestine feel unsafe publicly showing support for Palestine.   

Within the public sector, instruments like the IHRA Definition of antisemitism (which conflates antizionism with antisemitism) and the Prevent Strategy curtail freedom of speech and expression – particularly for Muslims – further pacifying individuals who wish to express their support for the Palestinians.  

The Prime Minister in his recent address announced that he would be increasing funding for the Prevent programme, further aligning those engaging in pro-Palestine advocacy with ‘extremism’.  

All of these create a stark atmosphere of censorship which limits individuals’ ability to express themselves freely.   

Many Muslims in particular express feelings of anxiety and paranoia at work, some scared to ‘like’ posts on LinkedIn and social media for fear of punishment and isolation.  

It is particularly isolating when we consider how our colleagues and peers are able to freely support and endorse the Zionism entity as it commits its crimes against the Palestinians, whilst we fear punishment for vocally opposing this injustice. 

Discipline and Punishment 

In the same survey by We for P, 𝟔𝟕% 𝐨𝐟 𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐟𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐚𝐥𝐬 standing in solidarity with Palestine have faced workplace retaliation or intimidation. This last stage then describes, in the more extreme cases, the times where individuals have been directly punished and silenced through discipline at their workplace.  

I know of many vocal academics and healthcare workers who have been vocal in their condemnation of Israel who have received a barrage of complaints from Zionists and the pro-Israel lobby to their workplace, sometimes forcing an investigation.  

People have been called in for ‘a quick chat’ by HR, unnecessarily inducing fears and anxieties over their job security. Most of these times, no further action is taken, but such instances are enough to have a long term self-censoring effect.  

In some cases, leaders and public figures are inadvertently made an example of, further instilling fears amongst those who wish to speak up.  

For instance, in December, founder of tech company, CircleCI, Paul Biggar wrote an article exposing the silence and complicity of tech organisations in the genocide on Gaza, where he was later sacked and removed from the Board.  

Similarly, in January, news anchor Mehdi Hassan, was dropped from his show MSNBC after complaints following his continued vocal critique of Israel. 

More recently, Dr Asif Munaf, a medical-doctor-turned-entrepreneur, who appeared on this year’s The Apprentice was edited out of the shows’ spin-off, ‘You’re Fired’, after being subject to a series of complaints by Pro-Israel lobby groups for his anti-Zionist tweets. After getting him removed from the show, they continued their smears of antisemitism and reported him to the medical regulator, the GMC, who fell under their pressure and suspended pending investigation. 

Such examples send signals to the public that as individuals; as professionals; we must pacify ourselves or face consequences for being vocal against genocide.   

The multi-layered psychological trauma and manipulation through tactical political baiting and back-tracking is enough to make you feel like you’re losing your mind. 

6 months on, with over 38,000 Palestinians martyred (Euromed), those who were silent in earlier weeks are now starting to recognise the sheer inhumanity we warned them of at the start. Politicians in particular are trying to claw back public support by vocalising concerns over the potential invasion of Rafah, where over 1.5 million are currently displaced and seeking refuge. Yet there is no consequential action, and Palestinians are still being bombed and mutilated by the occupation regime.  

We must not let their attempts to impose further sanctions silence us. We must not forget that ultimately, our rizq (provision) comes from Allah (swt).    

And surely we will try you with something of fear, hunger, and loss of wealth, life, and the fruits [of your labour]; but give glad tidings to those who have patience, who, when assailed by adversity, say, ‘Surely we belong to God, and to Him we shall return.’”

[2:155-156]

When we stand against oppression and injustice for His sake, we always win: we either see the fruits of it in this life, or the next. Or both.  

May Allah liberate the people of Palestine and grant them justice, and may He instil the courage in each and every one one of us to remain firm and vocal in this fight.

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